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South Dakota abortion suicide advisory upheld by federal appeals court

A federal appeals court has upheld a portion of a 2005 South Dakota law that requires a doctor to tell a woman seeking an abortion that she faces an increased risk of suicide.

In a 7-4 opinion on Tuesday, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said medical research has shown that the risk of suicide is higher for women who abort compared with women who don’t.


“The statute does not require the physician to disclose that a causal link between abortion and suicide has been proved.  The disclosure is truthful, as evidenced by a multitude of studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals that found an increased risk of suicide for women who had received abortions compared to women who gave birth, miscarried, or never became pregnant,” the opinion said.

“Various studies found this correlation to hold even when controlling for the effects  of other  potential  causal factors  for  suicide,  including  pre-existing depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, child neuroticism, and low self-esteem.”

The appeals court said the suicide advisory is “non-misleading” and “relevant to the patient’s decision to have an abortion.”

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The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota against former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds and Attorney General Marty J. Jackley.

The full appellate panel agreed to rehear the case after a three-judge panel upheld U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier's decision to overturn the requirement, The Associated Press reported. The decision by the full 11-member court vacates the permanent injunction against enforcing the provision, according to the AP.

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"On its face, the suicide advisory presents neither an undue burden on abortion rights nor a violation of physicians’ free speech rights," the decision said.  

Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota took issue with the appeals court decision, saying it "allows the greatest intrusion by the government into the patient doctor relationship to date."

"The bottom line is that women don’t turn to politicians for advice about mammograms, prenatal care, or cancer treatments. Politicians should not be involved in a woman’s personal medical decisions about her pregnancy," Planned Parenthood said in a statement.

Leslee Unruh of the Alpha Center pregnancy counseling center in Sioux Falls, which seeks to persuade women not to seek abortions, called the decision a victory for South Dakota women.

“We are thrilled. This has been a long time working from 2005. It’s a long, long haul. We are so excited for the women of South Dakota that they have this victory,” she told the AP.

The suicide advisory was part of a larger 2005 law requiring South Dakota doctors to provide women with certain information before an abortion can be voluntary.

Still entangled in the courts are two sections of a separate 2011-12 law dealing with a 72-hour waiting period for abortions and requirements for "pregnancy help centers," Jackley said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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